At today’s weekly healing service, I forgot something rather important. “Today, we are using Eucharist Prayer B found on page 367,” I said, and then a moment later, “The Lord be with you.”
“And also with you” came the reply from seven chilly parishioners (unlike the abiding presence of God, the heat in our building is both scarce and unreliable). We then exchanged the rest of the sursum corda* and I prayed the proper preface for Epiphany. Together, we said the Sanctus, after which I began the rest of the Eucharistic prayer.
“We give thanks to you, O God…” O God, I thought. I looked down. I looked up. O God. I looked down again. My distorted reflection peered up at me out of an empty chalice. I stopped speaking, pulled my hands out of the orans position, and turned around. “It seems that I forgot to put the wine in the chalice. Um…one moment please.”
I finished setting the table, smiling in a mortified kind of way. Then we continued the Eucharistic prayer, and the rest of the service went as expected. As I was walking back to my office, I thought to myself: I can’t believe I forgot to fill the chalice. That wasn’t very graceful of me.
Then I remembered some of the words I heard at my friend’s ordination, which I attended this weekend in Denver. The bishop looked at my friend standing before him and said, “In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace…”
Nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace. What a phrase. At my own ordination, these words passed right through my sternum and took up residency in the neighborhood of my left ventricle. They set me on fire and I never thought I’d stop burning. But in the last seven months, I somehow forgot the message of these words. I don’t know — maybe their house in my heart went into foreclosure. Maybe I wasn’t inhaling enough Holy Spirit with each breath to keep the fire going. I never forgot that it was my job to nourish. But I did forget whose meal was providing that nourishment.
You see, as a priest (heck, as a person) it is my job to say, “I have nothing of my own to offer. I have only what you, Lord, have given me.” Too often, I get caught up in succeeding at things that I forget that my success is not really mine at all. Too often, I try to nourish Christ’s people from the paucity of my grace, rather than from the riches of Christ’s. But doing that is like trying to water your lawn with the hose turned off.
When I forgot to put wine in the chalice, I remembered just how graceless I am. There I was with hands outstretched and prayer on autopilot, about to ask God to bless an empty cup. After filling the chalice with wine and a few drops of water, I realized that it was not the only empty cup in the room. I needed to be filled, too. I needed the riches of Christ’s grace to nourish me again because I — through inattentiveness and pride — had let his sustenance leach from my body.
We use the word “graceful” when we describe a dancer pirouetting or a figure skater performing a triple salchow. The word also applies to those people who suck every ounce of nutrition out of Christ’s nourishment and walk about with shimmering cascades of grace spilling over the tops of their heads. I know a few such people. You can tell them apart because they leave little puddles of grace behind them when they leave.
Lord, help me to remember that it is your grace with which you call me to nourish others. I can’t nourish them if I don’t allow you to nourish me. So please, fill this empty cup with the shimmering riches of Christ’s grace.
* Here’s a list of the technical words I used in this post:
Sursum corda: The three calls and responses at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer, in which the congregation gives the priest the okay to go ahead and celebrate the Eucharist. The responsory nature of this prayer makes explicit that the Eucharist is a corporate event.
Epiphany: The twelfth day after Christmas, on which we celebrate the coming of the wise men to see Jesus. The coming of light into darkness and the call of the disciples are stressed during the season of Epiphany, which extends from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday.
Sanctus: “Sanctus” means holy and is the name for the prayer which begins “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.” In Hebrew, there’s no way to make a word superlative (good, better, best); so, a three time repetition serves the same purpose.
Chalice: The cup we use at church. Remember that scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The room with the old knight is full of chalices. (“He chose…poorly”)
Orans position: “Orans” comes from the Latin word for “prayer” and is used when the priest is saying a prayer on behalf of the congregation. Think of a referee unethusiastically signaling touchdown and you’ve got it.
Ordination: The thing that happens to make someone who’s not a priest into a priest. The word comes from Latin and means something to the effect of “to put into order”; thus, ordination is when someone is set apart from others. There are four “orders” in the church: lay, deacon, priest, bishop — the latter three are “ordained” positions.